The weak made strong
GOOD Friday people are no strangers to fear. They learn to live with it, to thumb their noses at it and also to confront it face to face in those dark hours of the night when they are alone.
For some, perhaps, as for Jesus, there is a particular time when they face it head on, do battle and then, having come to some kind of truce, are able to move on with renewed strength and inner calm.
Carla Piette's dark night (or one of them, at least) began in Chile, in 1976 shortly after 1 was released from prison and expelled.
"Family" for Carla was her mother, her sister Betty and brother-in-law Jack, for her father had died suddenly when Carla was six. Just what impact James Piette's untimely death had upon his wife and little daughter we can only speculate but we are told that Carla's childhood was lonely and she never really understood why her mother was so distant.
Perhaps Carla, who always saw herself as the clown, was unconsciously concealing her sad heart under a grease-paint smile.
Childhood grief, however, has a way of erupting quite unexpectedly in middle life and Carla's caught her quite unawares: "She was on a bus one afternoon, returning from the city to La Bandera (the shanty town where she lived and worked), thinking a thousand thoughts, when all of a sudden she was overcome by an understanding of what her mother must have suffered with the birth of a daughter late in her life and the death of her husband a few years later.
"She broke into sobs as if she were alone with no end to her
tears. Weeping uncontrollably, she stumbled from the bus and hurried through the dusty streets, unashamed and finally free of the anguish over the distance between herself and her mother." (The .Same Fate as the Poor, by Judith Noone.
Shaken by this experience, Carla decided to go home and spend some time with her mother. So taking some overdue leave, she returned unannounced to the USA thinking that she would give her mother a surprise.
Alas for Carla, she was too lute. Her mother's mind had gone and not only was she unable to recognise her daughter hut she had nightmares when Carla slept in the house. Almost overwhelmed by the grief such as she had never known, Carla went away for a month to consider her future. As it happened, I was in the United States lecturing during that summer of 1976 and tried hard to persuade Carla to break her retreat to come and see me.
Wisely, she refused, but sent me a wonderful cryptic note which said something like: "It's a great thing to be on a journey into the unknown, particularly when you trust the cabbie."
Just when happened between Carla and God during this retreat, we will probably never know, save that she was able to abandon herself into God's hands. "Abandonment is not just a hanging loose.
It is a letting go.
It is a severing of the strings by which one manipulates, controls administrates the forces in one's life.
Abandonment is receiving all things the way one receives a gift with opened hands, and opened heart.
Abandonment to God is the climactic point in any man's life.
(From Edward Farrell's Disciples and Other Strangers, anonymous).
By September of 1976 Carla was back in Chile, but still fragile from the upheavals in her mind and heart. That she was painfully conscious of her vulnerability is shown in this letter to a friend: "In the end I had to say no to Venezuela because I am too weak, needy and, 1 guess you'd say, problematic.
"Home was very hard. 1 returned a little less than a basket case and have been recovering slowly, learning once again what it means to be poor and dependent."
1 am reminded here of a phrase from the Preface of Martyrs: "You choose the weak and make them strong", for this fragile "basket case" of a woman who felt too weak to go to a new mission in Venezuela, was, a couple of years later, to opt for the most dangerous mission available, El Salvador, and be likened by the Jesuit provincial to the strong woman of the bible.
From "Good Friday People" by Dr Sheila Cassidy (DL T. £5.99)